Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thoughts of a Guide Dog - 3

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do You Like to Play Card Games?

Do you like to play card games?

Are you a whizz at Bridge? Have a hot hand at Poker? Or just enjoy a little Solitaire?

A few days ago I was going over some recent photographs of Leif, my guide dog, and saw this picture which I added to a set of Large Register Playing Cards from Bicycle.

You can buy the cards which are ideal for visually impaired people by following the link below.

Leif and Flag Playing Cards 

The large print numbers and face card identifiers make it easy to identify your hand. The cards are the quality product that you have come to know from the Bicycle brand. I have had a similar pack of cards for two  years now and they are still very usable.

Also Available from my Zazzle Store:

Eagle and Flag Large Register Playing Cards from Bicycle

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Free U.S. Currency Readers for the Blind and Disabled

The U.S. Government will be providing free currency readers to all elligible U.S. Citizens and legal residents later this year.

In the first wave any blind or disabled person, citizen or legal resident and registered with the National Library Service, sometimes known as the Library for the Blind and Disabled , may call the NLS Currency Reader Number and they will be supplied with their reader through the mail, just as they would receive their books.

The first phase begins September 2, 2014. To obtain a reader in this first wave check out the details at the Free Currency Reader Website.

From January 2, 2015 all other US citizens and legal residents  who are elligible can apply to receive a Free currency reader under the same program.

I would recommend anyone who is not already a member of the National Library Service to join.

All you need is to be able to prove disability and you can receive a basic book reader, free books and also access to the Library of Congress BARD website, which has thousands of audio books ready to download as MP3 files to a flash drive which can be read on any compatable reader, all for Free or at very little cost, you do need to buy a flash drive  to store books on and you may also buy a upgraded reader such as the Victor Reader Stream New Generation   for the playback of books.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Coming to Terms With Blindness

Going Blind is not easy. It is to say the least a traumatic event in anyones life.

Though you may think it an individual event, it isn't. When you go blind it affects others around you. Family, friends, colleagues at work, or health service agencies. Lots of people are touched by your blindness, throughout the time when you are trying to adjust to your own changing life events, they too are involved for good or ill in those events.

I ofdten heard during my transitioning period. "Stop the pity party others are worse off than you."

To say this however is possibly the least helpful thing to say to a person going blind. At best it shows a lack of feeling on the part of those who say it. At worst it only makes you feel more isolated.

I say allow yourself to feel sad about your loss of sight.

Feeling sad about your situation allows you to cope in the long run. Sadness, even anger allow you to build a new life of acceptance. This acceptance of trhe changes you have undergone allows you to find solutions to many of the new problems that you will face.

For instance, you may see blindness merely in terms of a loss. You lose your ability to act independently, you lose friends, you lose the enjoyment of going out, you lose the ability to read. The you lose cycle can go on indefinitely.

One the other hand, losing your sight doesn't mean anything of the sort. You lose your sight, so you accept the use of a cane, you lose some independence for a time but you are able to regain much of that in the long term. So the cane tells people you are blind. It gives you independence. Maybe later you could get a dog to guide you, but first comes acceptance of some limitations rather than maintaining a struggle that you are not going to win.

Give yourself lots of time to adjust.

I have met people who think that going blind is simply like turning off a light. OK now you are in the dark, you don't need to adjust, just get on with it. But you need time to learn day to day living skills again.It took me several months of walking with a cane to become comfortable with my surroundings, playing out my route to work day after day as I moved about. Eventually I could tell where I was from the noise my cane made or the pressure of a tree branch as it brushed my head. 

Now all this has been learned again as I have moved on to work with a dog and a whole other set of skills had to be learned.

You will often be infuriated by other people. I can promise that. The store clerk who when asked where something is, waves an arm and says "Over ther." The colleague who leaves a hand written note on your desk and then indignantly says" You can read? Can't you?" When you go to ask them what the note says. Or the ever helpful restaurant witer or waitress who will ask anyone but YOU in your group at the table what YOU want to eat or drink.

Coming to terms with blindness is not easy. For you , if you are the one going blind, it can seem personal. For those around you, it can be a minefield of emotions too.

Never feel bad or apologetic for going blind. It is what it is. Give yourself time to adjust, feel sad, feel angry allow negative emotions to flow because if you don't they only get worse. Allow the bad feelings to foster a state of acceptance and drive you toward a fuller life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do You Prefer A Guide Dog or Cane?

One thing people often ask me is; if I prefer my guide dog or would I prefer to use a cane?

Bearing in mind that this answer is a personal answer, my own personal view  and if you are blind or know a blind or visually impaired person, they have their own opinions on the matter.

I used a cane for about four years, it worked for me as I no longer fell off sidewalks or walked into trees. As a tool it was useful and still is. In the recent hot weather I have fallen back to use the cane when temperatures soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. I hate being out in those temperatures so I feel Leif my Guide Dog would hate working in those temperatures.

Eight Months On

It is now just over eight months since I met Leif for the first time and we did get off to a sticky start. I was nervous of a strange dog, not wanting to spouil or break him. But that fear soon disappeared as he showed me just how clever he was. He did this by guiding me around several obstacles, but choosing a route which gave him  much to the laughter of our instructors at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). I definitely have to say this dog is smart. Way smartewr than me.

Guide dogs are much more work than a cane, I have to say. You don't just get to a destination and fold them away and forget them. A guide dog must be groomed several times per week. A guide dog which appears dirty can be refused entry to public places, restaurants, buses or taxis. They also need to be fed carefully. Leif gets three cups of dry food per day, two cups in the morning from which his treat bag is filled and a third cup at night with any kibble remaining in his treat bag. I also have to make sure he is allowed lots of opportunity to pee and poop. As a caring  guide dog partner I also make sure I clean up his poop in public places too. You need a regular supply of good poop bags when you are out and about together.

Work though is pretty boring stuff, so we love lots of playtime together. Leif loves a game of tug of war, either with his rope or a Go-Nut toy. I recently bought him a new Go-Nut ttoy shaped like the number 8. He loves that as much as his rope and will bring them both to playtime. So there is a lot of fun time to having a guide dog.

Having a guide dog is also more social than having a cane. People rarely interacted with me when I used my cane. Now with a guide dog people comment on how nice Leif is, they ask to say hello and pet him. Life definitely becomes less solitary with one of these beautiful animals at your side.


Having a guide dog from GDB also brings with it a great support team. GDB in San Rafael have a support team of instructors, an alumni association and a call center on campus operated by trained instructors and vetinarians who can help with a myriad of problems. If needs be, they can even send an instructor to your home to help with particular problems. This service was much needed in the few weeks after returning home after graduation.


Having a guide dog is a constant learning process. Once you master a cane it is easy to just walk and almost forget about it. Working together with your dog is very different, it is hard work, your guide dog guides you across streets, around obstacles and you hjave to give your dog the trust he or she needs to go with them. But all the time you are the one guiding your dog to and from place to place. You have to work on knowing where you are at all times that is hard.

Something Special

In the end, a cane is a great tool. It's simple and it works just fine. But there is a magical feeling to working with a dog, which a cane never gives you. A dog is much more than a tool, it is a living breathing creature which a lot of people have put a lot of effort into training and raising and it just makes you feel that bit more independent and free to be given the chance to work with them,.

Cane or dog?

It's a dog for me.